While many accidents are caused by negligent or reckless drivers who fail to take adequate precautions on the road, this is not the only reason that accidents occur. Foreign objects, obstructions, dangerous weather, and other unanticipated conditions can also cause automobile accidents. While many of these may be chance mistakes, occasionally defects in road conditions or signage arise that could have been properly addressed and prevented had the proper parties had notice of these defects. A recent case before the Georgia Court of Appeals considers whether a city had just such a defect in its roads, and whether it had sufficient knowledge of the defect such that it should have previously addressed it.
In this Georgia car accident case, J.B. was driving in the city when his car hit an area of broken pavement over a manhole. According to J.B., the hole in the pavement was so large that it caused his vehicle to veer out of control and into oncoming traffic. J.B. struck a vehicle headed in the other direction head-on, causing severe injuries. J.B. sued the City of Macon for his injuries and damages resulting from the collision, alleging that the City should have known about the damaged road around the manhole and should have addressed it, and that their negligent failure to do so caused his injuries. The City responded by filing a motion for summary judgment, arguing that J.B. had failed to provide actual evidence that the City had notice of the damaged road and could have repaired it prior to his accident. In response to this motion, J.B. produced pictures of the damage, taken two weeks after his accident, and argued that the damage to the road was such that the City should have had constructive notice of it. The trial court agreed and denied the motion. The City appealed.
On appeal, the City argued that the photographs produced by J.B. were not sufficient evidence of constructive notice because they did not provide any indication as to how long the road had been damaged. Under Tennessee law, the City has constructive knowledge of damage or a defect when the defect has existed for a long enough period of time that notice of the defect can be inferred. Evidence of constructive knowledge must be such that a jury could reasonably believe that the defect had been around long enough that the City should have had notice of it.